Tips for Keeping Purim Costs Down

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I’m writing this article 1.5 weeks prior to Purim. For the past number of years my mantra in managing household finances has been “I’m learning. This is a journey.” This year, my second year making a seuda in addition to prepping shalach manos, purchasing costumes, and matanos l’evyonim, I’m particularly aware of the inherent costs wracking up. And while I gladly accept the opportunity to be mehader the mitzva, I do still want to keep my expenditure in check. Well, inspiration is borne of experience, and that is why I’m going to share with you the lessons I’ve learned over the years, and perhaps you’ll stow them away for next year. I know I will.

COSTUMES:

One of the most widely accepted strategies for buying lower priced costumes is to purchase them in late October / early November when they’re put on sale to clear. But what happens if you don’t know five months prior to Purim what your kids are going to be dressing up as?

Ebay. Did you know that you can order kids’ Purim costumes for under $11 on Ebay, including shipping? Just search “kids costumes” and hit lowest price + shipping from their drop down menu.

Second hand and thrift stores often have costume stock that’s stored in a back room until October each year. Either purchase around then, or ask off season if they’re willing to pull them out for you to browse through. Picking up a teddy bear costume for $3 in perfect condition? Yes please!

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a significant Jewish population, you might be lucky enough to find secular dollar stores pulling out costumes prior to Purim, knowing that they can reap significant profit. Even if not, local dollar stores often have dress up memorabilia like various dress up hats, doctor sets, and accessories available for purchase year round. I buy these just to have on hand for the dress up bin at home.

If your community doesn’t yet have a Purim costume gemach, it’s time to start one! These are a huge service to the community. Due to the fact that so many families use costumes only for one year, especially if choosing to coordinate a theme, donating costumes and then being able to pick up gently used ones is a fabulous way to pay it forward!

DIY costumes aren’t for every balabusta, but can be so much fun for little ones to help out with. Though they can be time consuming, making a costume from scratch means you can make a costume literally for pennies by recycling materials around the house. Papier mache anyone? I’m actually partially DIYing my son’s costume this year, and he said to me today that he’s so excited for his costume “because it’s the first year we’ve ever MADE my costume!” Getting the little ones involved in the arts and crafts just adds to the dun.

Check out this link for a list of DIY Purim costumes with instructions that I’ve pulled together.

MISHLOACH MANOS

This is an area in which it’s so easy to get lost in the process and become overwhelmed, spending both more money and time than we should be allotting to shalach manos. With the upsurge of family themes and the need for the perfect presentation, women are spending hours and hours searching the internet for ideas, browsing store shelves for inspiration, and then finally having to put together the bags full of supplies on which you emptied your wallet and just lugged home.

And yet, guilty as charged. As mentioned, I’m learning!

#1 is remember the actual mitzvah. We give mishloach manos, of two different minim or types of foods, to increase achdus and unity with our fellow Jew, and to ensure that everyone has enough food to make their seuda. Perhaps there’s someone out there who otherwise wouldn’t be receiving any mishloach manos this year – this is the perfect opportunity to extend yourself. For more information on the mitzva, Aish HaTorah’s website provides a succinct and informative summary of the related laws and reasons pertaining to the mitzva.

How to we balance practicality with presentation?

Simplify.

Keep your list of recipients in check. Sit down and think to whom you need to give rather than giving to everyone you know. These days you can mail tzedaka cards instead of food which benefit community members and still show your family and friends you’re thinking about them. These can be prepared long in advance and mailed out prior to Purim saving the stress at crunch time. Mailing out cards has the added benefit of reducing the number of deliveries to make on Purim day.

Keep the contents simple. Remember there’s a requirement of only two minim, or different types of food. There’s no need to spend extra cash on food that will just need to be cleared out of the house before Pesach.

Offer real food contents rather than junk food. If you’ve seen my take on the amount of candy our children are eating, you’ll understand why I generally don’t offer sweets in my shalach manos packages. I do however aim to please. Whether or not you’re baking or cooking your contents, we can make a difference communally in our families’ health by offering healthy options. For inspiration, check out this post on DIY real food theme based mishloach manos options.

MATANOS L’EVYONIM

Related to the above section on mishloach manos, remember than we’re meant to spend more money on matanos l’evyonim than on mishloach manos. Allocating our funds properly can truly make someone’s Purim a chag they’ll remember for years to come.

Wishing you a wonderful simcha filled Purim! Do you have tips on keeping Purim costs in check? I’d love your input. Please comment below to offer others your wisdom!

Loving Your Strengths, Your Struggles, and Loving Yourself

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I am a single mom.

I’ve struggled with whether or not to write this article, and to publicize to the world that this is my lot. This is meant to be the blog for the Jewish mother, and in establishing my online voice I’ve thought I had to comply with the vision of life that I had hoped would manifest itself way back when; the one that I figured mothers could identify with. I realize now that that ain’t so.

In establishing this blog, Bitachon Balance and Blessing I wanted women to see themselves in the message portrayed. You may be struggling with chinuch. You may be experiencing a difficult marriage. Money may be tight. Shalom bayis may be difficult for you to attain. But in my mind, you were married, and raising your kids. In my mind, only the minority are divorced.

This blog was the brainchild of a woman who has grown through adversity. My writing, my thoughts, my tefilos are laced with the wisdom I’ve been granted through the times I’ve lost myself in pain and had to reach back for the sky, putting one foot in front of the other for days on end. And now with the opportunity presenting itself to stand as a pillar of hope for others, I felt myself shying away from my reality. Well, no more. I know that this is the source of the gift HKB”H wants me to send on through to the public. (Well, that and some creative juices and fun projects!)

What makes a mother? You’ve seen discussion of this concept in earlier posts, and you’ll see it again in future, without a doubt. A mother is the woman who gives of herself to the next generation, who takes the moral decisions she’s made to carry her and others forward. From the bleakest depths of the earth Hashem has cut diamonds of us. In writing these articles I hope to inspire you to accept and own your war scars, wearing them as medallions around your neck. Be brave. Stand up and applaud yourself for who it is that you’ve become, and utilize that person to propel you into the future.

You have so much to give, as you. Never hide it. Love yourself.

What is it in your own reality that you fear? Learn to accept and to own that pressure point, because it will produce pearls. And if you feel comfortable doing so, share it below.

Meal Plan Week 6 – When There’s No Time for Meal Planning

So things have been a little busy around here. New to the blogosphere, I’ve been working on keeping balance between the blog posts (related to Purim) and real life (prepping for Purim) while looking keeping everything running smoothly in the house (in anticipation of Purim). Purim is one of the most festive times of the year, and with this joyous holiday approaching, mayyyybe I’ve let my meal planning slide a bit??

Well, as I’ve said it’s all about accountability. You folks are graciously anticipating the meal plan, and so I’ll create it for myself and the world out there. And my family will benefit throughout the week from my being that little bit more prepared.

Truth be told I did my shopping for this week with no meal plan in hand, and so this week’s meal plan is inspired by the ingredients I did pick up at the grocery store, as well as items I keep on hand in the pantry – for occasions such as this!

Friday night: Challah, chicken soup, roast chicken, brown rice pilaf, green beans, and hamentaschen.

Shabbos Lunch: Invited out :)

Sunday: Roast chicken, green beans, rice.

Monday: Big hearty vegetable soup – single bowl meal.

Tuesday: These fantastic crockpot baked beans and rice, and chopped veggies.

Wednesday: Vegetable soup from Monday

Thursday: Breakfast for dinner – eggs, pancakes, veggies.

What’s on your weekly meal plan this week? Please share below!

DIY Real Food Mishloach Manos – Theme Based!

If you’ve been looking to give out real food mishloach manos this year, this post is for you. More and more, individuals and families are looking to offer a healthy, cost effective alternative to the candies that are so prevalent on Purim. In going with the wish of many to tie in mishloach manos with a theme, this post is a compilation of many classic theme based food groupings.

Where possible, the food suggestions in this post re “real food” based. What I offer are springboards for our creativity. Take a look, let your creative juiced flow, and remember that the mitzva of mishloach manos is about spreading joy and togetherness.

Enjoy!

 Doctor / Nurse

  • Apple (a day)fruits-320136_640
  • Veggie sticks and dips
  • Soup broth
  • Fruit salad
  • Salad in a jar
  • White chocolate covered pretzel sticks (thermometers)
  • Milk cartons
  • Orange / orange juice

Astronaut

  • Milk(y way) cartons
  • Cut star shapes from cheese pieces, melon, cucumbers, carrots
  • Star fruit slices
  • Cheerios (Saturn’s rings)
  • SUN-flower seeds
  • String (moon) cheese
  • Star shaped cookies
Photo credit: coolest-homemade-costumes.com

Photo credit: coolest-homemade-costumes.com

Construction Worker

The key here is that although assembly is required, it be extremely minimal, with very little effort or time required.

Photo credit: www.chabad.org

Photo credit: http://www.chabad.org

  • Build your own sandwich – Bread, cheese or deli, veggies
  • Build your own salad – Lettuce in container, chopped veggies, cheese, craisins, croutons, seeds, dressing
  • Build your own pasta – Pasta, shredded cheese, pasta sauce, sliced olives, grilled veggies
  • Build your own parfait – Yogurt, blueberries / chopped fruit, homemade granola
  • Build your own pizza – Pre-rolled dough (bake these most of the way through so as to hold their shape and lessen recipient’s bake time), pizza sauce, cheese, sliced olives

Kallah and Chosson (Bride & Groom)

  • Challah
  • Cake
  • Cupcakes
  • Grapejuice

Haman

  • Grape juice / wine
  • Hamentaschen
  • Triangle bourekas (can be dairy, meat, or pareve depending on fillings)
  • Triangle fruit turnovers
Photo credit: www.chabad.org

Photo credit: http://www.chabad.org

Shabbos Theme

  • Grape juice / wine
  • Challah
  • Kugel
  • Dips

Purim Theme

  • Hamentashen (mishloach manos)
  • Wine (seuda)
  • Chocolate coins (matanos l’evyonim)
  • A note rolled into a megilla
Photo credit: www,eventstocelebrate.net

Photo credit: www,eventstocelebrate.net

Curious George

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Farmer / Animals

Photo credit: www,thefoodies.org

Photo credit: www,thefoodies.org

Insects

  • Butterfly bag snacks
  • Bread and different flavored butter(fly)s
  • Raisins (ants)
  • Chocolate covered raisins

Bumblebee

  • Honeycomb cereal
  • Milk carton
  • Banana (yellow)
  • Little container of honey
  • Honey cookies

Flowers

  • Flower shaped cookies baked on sticks
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Vegetable bouquets

Painters / Rainbow

  • Sprinkle covered chocolate dipped pretzels
  • Fruit salad
  • Israeli salad
  • Fruit kabobs
  • Layered salad in a jar

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Pirates

  • Chocolate coins
  • Mini kabobs on sword shaped skewers
  • Bread sticks (swords) and dips
Photo credit: www,jewitup.com

Photo credit: www,jewitup.com

Sports

  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Trail mix
  • Nuts *allergy alert – make sure to clearly label as containing nuts
  • Water bottle

Superheroes

  • Soup(erheroes)
  • Hero sandwiches
  • Super-foods

Airline Meal

Pack onto small rectangular tray and cellophane the entire package.

  • Fruit cup
  • Single serve cereal
  • Milk
  • Small water bottle
  • Baked dessert

Colonial Theme

  • Corn muffins
  • Popcorn
  • Mini pumpkin pies
  • Mini cherry pies
  • Apple cider
  • Jam

Fireman

  • Salsa and chips
  • Matbucha and rolls / pita chips
  • BBQ chicken
  • Grilled vegetable salad / skewers
  • Water bottle

Under the Sea

  • Sushi (stick with veggie varieties as fish poses health hazards not being refrigerated)
  • Can of tuna with packets of mayonnaise and pickle on the side

Clown

  • Popcorn
  • Homemade soft pretzels or pretzel bites with mustard

Beach Theme

  • Sand(wiches)
  • Pasta salad made with macaroni shells
  • Water bottle

Sharing in Life’s Challenges

Sharing in Life's ChallengesLast summer I was sitting in a friend’s backyard watching our kids play. The weather was perfect, and we were contemplating the upcoming school year. One friend shared some difficulties she was facing with her child. “I thought I was the only one dealing with that,” piped up another.

This set me thinking. It’s so easy to assume that everyone else has it easier than we do. Whether it’s a parenting issue, marital difficulty, health challenge, or anything else Gd has set upon our plates. Yet we must realize that He has given it to us, and no matter the hand we’re dealt, we must remember we have the ability to get through it. Hashem only gives us what we can handle. So the question begs, how?

By turning to one another for guidance, and to share in the burden.

Throughout challenges I’ve faced, I’ve come to appreciate this. We are never alone in our struggles. I’ve come to experience support groups, but also just to realize the strength of my friendships. The more bleak times have seemed, the more we hang upon one another for commiseration, for strength, for reassurance. Whether or not we’ve faced this fork in the road before, we know that someone else out there has, and made it through the beaten path. There is power in numbers.

So the next time you feel you’re doing it alone. Remember, you aren’t.

DIY Purim Costume Roundup

Dressing up is one of the major highlights of Purim for so many little ones – and let’s not forget the adults! Here are some super cute and inexpensive ideas that you can make with your kids this year. They’re sure to enjoy playing with them for weeks afterwards as well!

Box Built Costumes

One of most often repeated themes to date have been farm related costumes in various configurations. I think this Farmer’s Tractor might be happening in the not too distant future.

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Photo credit: wildinkpress.com

This Firetruck DIY is a great idea for those kids whose idea of the world’s best field trip is a day at the firehouse.

This Construction Worker in a Backhoe costume is a bit more complicated, but super creative! Can you imagine a putting your little one in this?

Photo credit: coolest-homemade-costumes.com

Photo credit: coolest-homemade-costumes.com

Dressing up as a Train Conductor + Steam Engine is one my family actually made years ago. Especially for those kids who have grown up with Thomas the Tank Engine, this would be a great pick.

Photo credit: littleredwindow.com

Photo credit: littleredwindow.com

For a very simple and unique family theme idea, try this Lego Brick costume series. Each family member can go as a different color block.

Got an older kids who’d love to make a box costume? Try this Rubik’s Cube costume.

Balloon Inspired Costumes

Hopefully it goes without saying – don’t give these costumes to the really little ones for whom balloons could be a choking hazard, or who might be scared of them suddenly popping.

Looking for a healthy mishloach manos theme? How about going as grapes this year and giving grape juice and, well, Grapes?

Photo credit: todaysparent.com

Photo credit: todaysparent.com

This is simply adorable. Dress your kid as Bubble-Bath!

This Astronaut Helmet doesn’t have a child going around dressed in balloons, but is crafted using papier mache over a balloon. For this costume you do have to purchase the suit (or make it) but the helmet is just so fun and creative I had to post it. Great way to introduce a new DIY craft to your kids before blasting off into outer space!

Photo credit: somethingmadedifferent.com

Photo credit: somethingmadedifferent.com

Wrapping up the box and balloon list is a combination of both. Can you guess what it is? Hot Air Balloons! I’ve always wanted to take a hot air balloon ride. Can you imagine what fun a little one could have with this on and after Purim?

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Photo credit: countryliving.com

Dollar Store DIY Purim Costumes 

This Flower Pot costume is one of the sweetest I’ve come across for a little girl. And literally can be made for under $5. I love that.

Photo credit: dukesandduchesses.com

Photo credit: dukesandduchesses.com

Little ones old enough not to eat their costumes will be soft and cuddly in this cotton ball inspired Little Lamb costume. Just pay for cotton balls, felt, and pull out an old outfit that was destined for the scrap pile.

Photo credit: parent.com

Photo credit: parent.com

Doing a bug theme this year? Add a sweet little Caterpillar to the mix. Best factor here after being inexpensive? This one is so easy and quick!

Photo credit: parents.com

Photo credit: parents.com

Have more to add? Please share! What are you dressing your little ones up as this year?

6 Tips for Job Hunting as a Mom

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Despite having the heart of a stay and home mother, I’ve found myself having to go out into the workforce as the primary breadwinner for our family. When I completed my program last year and graduated with a what I was told statistically was a very employable career, I thought finding a job would be a piece of cake. Little did I know that statistically employable job description in this day and age would mean only a few dozen job applications being sent out before receiving an interview. To be clear, that’s 46 applications, and 5 interviews at last count.

The market at the moment is a tough one for anyone seeking employment; man or woman, recent grad or seasoned employee. As mothers, women are often torn between whether to venture out into the work force, or remain at home. Depending how tight finances become, and how frugal a couple is willing to get along being, the decision is sometimes in a woman’s hands, and is sometimes made for her. Either way, if she does find herself seeking employment, job hunting is a fate that inevitably awaits her. Thus post is about simplifying the job application process so that a mother can maintain balance while seeking employment.

  1. Find someone already working in the business. Someone already working in your field of choice is not only experienced in their work, but in what a potential employer seeks. They know what skills a resume should promote and what about their cover letter caught the employer’s attention. Once you reach the interview stage, ask if they’d spend twenty minutes coaching you through potential questions. Build a rapport with this person and don’t feel shy about asking them to forward your resume out further than you’re able to reach.
  2. Network, network, network. I cant stress enough how vital this is. As a natural introvert, I’ve had to step waaaaaayyyy outside of my comfort zone here, but I’ve already seen it paying off. Reach out to anyone who knows anyone in your community and beyond, and ask if you could send them your resume and cover letter. Each time I send mine out, I add the line “Feel free to forward as you see fit,” because you never know whose eye it might catch. Friends of friends are always fair game. In my book, schlep is absolutely an avenue towards employment.
  3. Refine your resume. Research shows that employers spend less than 10 seconds scanning a resume before deciding that an applicant is or isn’t candidate material. Take advantage of resume writing workshops. Ensure that keywords match skills sought after by employers in your field.
  4. Craft a cover letter that presents the true you. When I was first job hunting, my cover letter was very to the point, detailing my qualifications as a potential employee based on my academic and employment history. Shortly after I began job hunting I was approached by two contacts who said to me that my cover letter was too manufactured and needed to tell the story of who I was. I spent some time, and decided to craft a letter that tied in my parenting history with the (quite unrelated) employment field I was entering. To my surprise, employers were interested, and it was with these new cover letters that I began receiving calls for interviews!
  5. Pace yourself. Job hunting is draining. Each job submission takes time and effort. Leafing through job classifieds often takes more time than the application process itself. With little ones underfoot and a million other things on your mind, it’s important to keep from burning out. Set a quota each week and stick staunchly to it. For myself I found putting in one good morning per wee (about five hours) has brought in slow but steady results, without leaving me overwhelmed by the process.
  6. Know your employment parameters, and hold them dearly. I recently had an interview at 7:30 am – yup, your read that correctly. It was in a great office with a respected name in my industry. I left the interview knowing however that whether or not I received a call back, this wasn’t the place for me. I am a mother first and foremost, and knew that this would not be an office to provide the flexibility I require as a mother. From this I learnt my lesson; all that glitters is not gold. My role as a mother comes first.

What tips would you like to share with soon to be working moms out there? What factors do you feel have contributed to your employment? Hit comment below and let us know!